Thursday, July 30, 2015

9 MORE Tips for Observing Your Young Musician

There are two different teachers present in a young student’s private music lesson environment: the parent and the teacher. While the private studio teacher is there to offer expertise on the instrument, the parent will be the one that has the most lasting impact on the child’s musical career. Consider that the teacher usually only sees the child once a week while the parent will be there for the young student the other six days.

Learning a musical instrument is no easy task. Besides the obvious physical challenges there are a great many emotional hurdles to overcome. This means that the parent must play an active role in the child’s learning if he is to become successful.

The parent must learn how to observe the home environment objectively since this is where the child will be doing most of his playing. It is also the area where the teacher has no hand in anything that goes on. If issues crop up then it will be up to the parent to report back in order to figure out a solution.
You can find this booklet on Amazon, Kobo and most other major e-book retailers.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I've reached an interesting point in my teaching career.  After nearly seven years of teaching I finally have a batch of book 4-becoming-semi-advanced level students.  From a teaching perspective it means that I am finally faced with the task of producing an artist rather than just someone who plays with a very basic level of control.

This is a daunting prospect.

It's one thing to start a beginner.  The worst I could do is render the student frustrated and unable to play.  It's quite another thing to try and explain to a twelve-year-old how this sonata she is playing needs more emotional depth.  Where does one even begin?

I ask these questions rhetorically, of course.  Like just about everything else in teaching there's never one clear solution to a problem.  But as I explore different ways to help a student learn musical depth I've noticed that it's actually starting to change my playing.

Like every other twelve-year-old on the planet, I never gave much thought to the contours and shape of the music I was playing.  Even through college I would sort of blindly imitate recordings, totally oblivious to the musical story I was trying to tell.  It wasn't until I had to coach students through these concepts that I began to think, "Oh wait, there are layers to this piece."

I suppose it really is true when they say: to teach is to learn twice.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why Play a Smaller Size Instrument?

It is a cornerstone of Suzuki Method philosophy to teach a child with the "one point lesson" in mind.  In other words, information and technique adjustments should be given in small, able-to-master bits.  This is why sight reading is taught as a separate skill.  The task of understanding the value of a dot on a page is removed from the task of producing a sound.

It is with this idea in mind that Suzuki teachers tend to size a student down rather than up on instruments.  The teacher's goal is to give the student the tools to play fluently or, as Shinichi Suzuki used to always say, "with beautiful heart."  This does not happen if the student is struggling to support the instrument itself.

Fractional instrument size should imitate how the instrument is held by an adult with a full size instrument.  This means that wrists should not have to be hyperextended or torsos twisted into painful shapes in order to produce a sound. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I studied Music Therapy in college.  Upon completing my classwork, I ended up choosing not to pursue the two year internship that would have eventually led to me becoming a board certified music therapist.  I picked the private teacher route instead.

Even though I never ended up practicing music therapy in an official capacity, I never regretted my choice of studies in college.  Had I known then that I wanted to be a private music teacher I might have decided to take more of a music education route instead of therapy.  In retrospect, however, I feel that the therapy aspect prepared me more for the challenges of private teaching then anything else ever could have.

I think the biggest difference between the therapy approach versus standard music education is that in therapy you are assuming that your client is not a normal functioning individual and then working from there.  Whether it's cerebral palsy or autism or anger problems, the issues are seen as the primary concern and you use the music to address these issues.

After taking on my first batch of students, I quickly came to realization that just about everyone has issues.  Successfully teaching someone an instrument takes years and the lessons never revolve around a student perfectly recreating every technique adjustment you make.  They have issues, be it physical or mental.  The teacher may even have issues!

Issues and barriers are a natural part of learning.  That is why this must be the starting point for every lesson or practicing session.  What are the problems and how are they going to be fixed?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Intricate Plots

Something that's really cool about being a private music teacher is that you get to watch your students grow up.  It's something I started appreciate a few years ago when the cute little four-year-old suddenly walks into my studio and issues a sarcastic retort to my sarcastic statement.

Umm, since when did you become twelve?  I thought you were still four!

It's not that bad, actually.  But it really makes you reexamine your teaching strategy.  And something that seems to come up a lot is a need to readdress listening.  To be clear, I never stop telling students to listen to their pieces.  But many of them reach a point where they think they've outgrown it.  Listening was all well and good when they were in book ONE.  But now they are in book TWO and listening to a piece once should totally be sufficient, right?


If anything, listening should become more important the more advanced a student becomes.  Longer pieces are like reading more complex books.  Consider a beginner book such as Green Eggs and Ham.  There could be some underlying messages but the plot itself is usually very straight forward.  Reading through the book once or twice would allow most people to be able to verbally explain the plot with some accuracy.  The plot is simple and straightforward with a minimal cast of characters.

Now compare this to a book like Pride and Prejudice.  There's just more going on in that book.  The cast of characters is considerably larger and there is a host of subplots.  Not only does it take longer to get from beginning to end but it would also take at least a few read-throughs to sort out all the subplots you may have missed the first time.  Being able to accurately explain the plot to someone would take considerably more effort.

The same is true for music.  More complexity means more effort must go into the details.